Acute disillusionment the only response to growing FAI debacle
Division and discord over key governance issue revives memories of OCI implosion
FAI headquarters at Abbotstown: Governance was the issue that framed it as a ramshackle organisation. Governance was the issue that brought it to collapse and financial ruin. Now governance is central to causing fatal conflict and division. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Survivors of the protracted and messy collapse of The House of Hick aka the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), feel especially brazen about understanding arcane matters.
Esoteric things you believed would never impinge on your simple living reveal themselves in all sorts of ways. Occasionally that sensation of learning seeping in can feel, to the unlearned, like an epiphany.
Subjects like Articles of Association, governance, what the board does and why it actually exists. What is a president or chairman and what does he or she do and what powers do they have. Consider those things and the shaking begins quite quickly.
It’s a world where you don’t really want to go to unless you have put in a good pre-season, gotten the diet right and had a long chat with the sports psychologist. As it says in The Big Basic Coaching Manual for Children’s Sport, have the team lined up in the same direction, have them pulling for each other, have them working as a unit for the same shared goal.
On Tuesday a headline in this paper didn’t suggest there were shared outcomes or mutually supporting roles on the board of the FAI. That’s the new FAI not the old FAI. The headline was ‘Shels chairman Andrew Doyle hits out at ‘appalling’ FAI governance’.
We double checked. It was the new FAI, not the old FAI. Just the language remained the same; familiar, deflating, exhausting, disturbing and bewildering.
As a result Doyle sent a letter of resignation from the FAI’s senior council and finance committee. Dripping with irony, Doyle’s other role in life is as a corporate governance lawyer.
He quit because, according to his expert understanding of what constitutes good governance, he was frustrated and believed there were serious issues that were not being addressed.
He cited unauthorised borrowings, failure to convene a critical committee, failure to provide information to the finance committee, breach of independent chairman’s duties, failure to address complaints and the blocking of an independent majority on the nominations committee.
Not being a corporate governance lawyer but believing Doyle knows what he is talking about, that is a pretty handsome list of failures. If accurate, it would mean the new board of the FAI, hammered together with ministerial threats and the withholding of funds to a backdrop of public disquiet and disgust, has already become indistinguishable in its failings from the old board.
One thing taken from the fall of the House of Hick is that once the conflict becomes a spectator sport and breaks out of the boardroom and into the public domain, it is the beginning of the end.
When the Rio television cameras followed the OCI president after his arrest in his room in the Windsor Marapendi in Barra de Tijuca and pictured him walking along the corridor and out the front doors, it was calamitous and fateful. It didn’t matter about the rights or wrongs. It was kaput.
Now Hickey, although charged in Brazil and unlikely to ever face a court hearing, sits in Ireland an innocent man but with the organisation he once presided over run by other people.
Doyle in an email accused chairman Roy Barrett, a very capable man and managing director of Goodbody Stockbrokers, of “a breach of your duties as independent chairman”. Doyle is also a very capable man and is a graduate of Blackrock College and UCD, a previous partner at firms A&L Goodbody and Matheson in London and a managing partner at Maples and Calder.
A short history here. Barrett’s arrival in January as the FAI’s first chairman was as a cornerstone of reform agreed to by members just over 12 months ago. Doyle’s resignation was preceded by PwC partner Seán Brodie’s from the audit risk and compliance committee. Brodie resigned in May over “lack of progress”.
Given the seriousness of the charges listed by Doyle, it would seem there is nowhere else for this to go except to the desks of John Treacy in Sport Ireland and Green Party Minister for Media, Tourism and Sport Catherine Martin. It’s broke minister.
Broke because governance was the issue that tore down the old FAI. Governance was the issue that framed it as a ramshackle organisation. Governance was the issue that brought it to collapse and financial ruin. Now governance is central to causing fatal conflict and division. Has anyone not lost confidence?
One of the other things learned from the OCI narrative is that people have different views about what the roles in the organisation are. In another place Hickey’s presidential style would have been perfectly fine.
In many countries the president makes all the decisions, calls all the shots and runs the organisation without filtering each move through the board. Companies are also run in different ways according to the personalities of the top people, their vision and what they see as their responsibilities.
A cause for acute disillusionment here is that one powerful FAI board member believes another powerful board member is remiss in the very affairs that triggered FAI strife in the first place.
Before our eyes it is a growing debacle. It doesn’t matter if Barrett or Doyle or Brodie are right. The gears have stopped grinding and the optics are bad – for those looking in see disharmony and a new management team losing the changing room. As a veteran of the OCI implosion, the FAI are, again, doing a decent job in trying to follow.